First, a necessary disclosure: on November 1 this year, after much deliberation, I intend to vote for Otzma Yehudit Party chairman Itamar Ben-Gvir and his partner, Religious Zionism Party chairman Bezalel Smotrich.
As a liberal Orthodox Jew, I am aware that their platform is not a perfect match for my views, and there are even some positions I disagree with (just as I disagree with some of the positions of all the other lists), yet I will vote for them because I see them as great reformers of the Zionist enterprise.
Itamar Ben-Gvir is known as a vehement advocate of the rule of law everywhere in Israel, including in Jewish and Arab communities. He is also well known to be a strong advocate of an iron-fist policy against terrorists, including the deportation of terrorists, as well as of Knesset members who deny Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.
But did you know that Ben-Gvir is a successful civil rights attorney? That he advocates for freedom of worship in Israel? That he has expressed warmth and empathy for homosexuals?
The Jerusalem Post’s editor-in-Chief, Yaakov Katz, warned a week ago: “A government in which the leader is focused on evading trial and top ministers are messianic, anti-Arab, anti-progressive Jews and anti-LGBTQ, anti-women and anti-religious freedom is a government that will not advance Israel.”
Katz is absolutely right. Yet at the same time, every single part of this paragraph is false and misleading. But it’s thanks to Katz that I can clear up these mistaken notions, one by one. Here goes:
Likud Party head Benjamin Netanyahu, far from seeking to avoid his criminal trial, appears to welcome the opportunity it affords to dismantle the prosecution’s cases in court.
Responding to Smotrich’s proposed reform of the Israeli justice system, that includes the elimination of “fraud and breach of trust” from the criminal code, Netanyahu said: “I have friends who try too hard to help me.” He insisted that he wishes to win his court cases, not avoid them.
Smotrich and Ben-Gvir are messianic—in the same way every religious Jew who prays three times a day for the coming of the Messiah is messianic.
In fact, left or right, the entire Zionist movement is messianic.
In 1905, it rejected a proposal to establish a national home for the Jews in Uganda, because Jewish redemption can only be achieved in Israel. Mind you, the Zionist Congress that said “no thank you” to the British government on Uganda was made up of mostly non-religious peers.
The State of Israel is messianic.
Its Declaration of Independence clearly states: “The State of Israel will be … based on freedom, justice, and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel,” followed by, “We appeal to the Jewish people throughout the Diaspora to rally round the Jews of Eretz Israel in the tasks of immigration and upbuilding and to stand by them in the great struggle for the realization of the age-old dream—the redemption of Israel.”
Without this acknowledgment of Israel’s role in the redemption of the Jewish nation, we might as well move the Jerusalem Post‘s offices to Entebbe.
And what was the vision of the prophets of Israel, as sanctified by our Declaration of Independence, if not: “Nations shall see your victory, and every king your majesty; And you shall be called by a new name which God Himself shall bestow” (Isaiah 62:2).
On Sept. 6, when Ben-Gvir spoke before students at Blich High School in Ramat Gan, he stated clearly: “I don’t advocate death to Arabs, nor do I advocate deporting all Arabs, but I have a problem with those who throw firebombs at us or hurt IDF soldiers. I also have a problem with those who are in the Knesset and go against our country.”
Claiming Ben-Gvir is anti-Arab is like saying that demanding that courts punish Jewish criminals makes one an anti-Semite.
However, the reality in Israel is that Arab-on-Arab and Arab-on-Jew crime is destroying the country from within, and a demoralized and underfunded police department, commanded by individuals like Police Commissioner Yaakov Shabtai, who is much better at making excuses and blaming others than at doing his job, cannot enforce the law. Nor can it turn chaos and violence into peace and stability.
Frankly, I look forward to Ben-Gvir’s appointment as Netanyahu’s internal security minister. Even if Ben-Gvir spends the next four years munching on pizzas in his basement he’d still be doing a better job than the current minister, Omer Barlev.
I must admit that the term “anti-progressive Jews” confuses me. If it is, as I suspect, a reference to the Reform movement, I have no idea what makes the Reform message “progressive,” much less desirable. Does Katz want Jews on a vector that points at a future rife with intermarriage, supporting BDS, Judaic illiteracy and gender dysphoria? In that case, sure, the Reform movement is our vanguard.
Survey after survey has shown that Israelis are either Orthodox, traditional, or secular—but not Reform.
Secular Israelis don’t want any kind of religion; traditional Jews come to their Orthodox shul on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and both groups for the most part circumcise their infant boys using an Orthodox mohel, celebrate their children’s bar and bat mitzvah in their neighborhood’s Orthodox shul, and get married by an Orthodox rabbi.
The Reform movement in Israel is a tiny minority, well under 10,000 real members. If they are the progressives Katz is worried about, then Ben-Gvir does not believe such a tiny minority is entitled to lavish government budgets, or to their own exclusive piece of choice real estate by the Kotel. And the proof is in the pudding: a few years ago, on Sukkot, some Orthodox youths took over the “egalitarian section” of the Kotel, erected a mechitza, and conducted a halachic Jewish prayer service.
The Reform movement only found out about it from the media and subsequently issued angry condemnations—but none of them had actually been there praying.
At that same famous Blich high school event, Ben-Gvir was asked what he would do if his own son came out as gay. Ben-Gvir responded that he would hug him and reassure him that he loves him and that he would always remain his son.
I’m an old Ben-Gvir hand (been following him since he pulled that inspired stunt back in 2011, sicking Sudanese illegals on the Ashkenazi bathers at the Gordon swimming pool in north Tel Aviv, and watching rich, liberal whitey grabbing his towel and fleeing the pool), and yet, his instantaneous answer to this question made me tear up a little; I believed him. I believe Ben-Gvir when he says he loves all Jews (half of his family and many of his staff are secular).
Just as I believe him when he says he is not anti-Arab.
Attempts to portray him otherwise betray the other side’s phobias and biases—much as in the case of those folks at the Gordon pool.2022 election
Katz threw in the allegation about Ben-Gvir and his party being “anti-woman,” but his editorial includes not a single reference to women other than that vile statement (twice). The Religious Zionist slate of candidates, which the polls predict could capture 14 mandates, includes in the fourth spot MK Orit Strook; in eighth place MK Michal Miriam Waldiger; and in thirteenth place Limor Son Har Melech. There are many more women candidates in the 20-plus spots, but the top 14 are considered the “safe spots.”
The outgoing Knesset featured only 29 women out of 120. Was it an “anti-women” Knesset? Depends who you ask.
The claim that Ben-Gvir is “anti-religious freedom” is also perplexing. Katz should offer a single example of the Otzma Yehudit chairman advocating the repression of anyone’s religious rights.
In fact, as a civil rights attorney who argued many times before Israel’s Supreme Court, Ben-Gvir has been a strong advocate of civil liberties—freedom of worship included. It may be the most cynical accusation on Katz’s part to suggest that the man who supports wholeheartedly matching the rights of Jews to pray on the Temple Mount to those of the Muslims is “anti-religious freedom.”
Mind you, Ben-Gvir does not object to the right of Muslims to pray wherever they want, he only wants Jews to enjoy the same rights.
Unless your head is in the sand, it’s clear that Israel is facing a mounting intifada. Defense Minister Benny Gantz is trying to create a de facto Palestinian state on the doorstep of Jewish communities on either side of the Green line. The Negev and Galilee are the new Wild West. Prime Minister Yair Lapid capitulated to Hezbollah in a remarkable example of how not to negotiate, and there is now open war on the religious status quo by Transport Minister Merav Michaeli and her allies.
Ben-Gvir and Smotrich are not the bogeymen that leftists like Katz make them out to be. In fact, I believe they are exactly what Israel needs to get back on track.
Terrorists and their supporters must be punished. Citizens must be protected. Soldiers and police officers need our full backing. Laws must be enforced—and not in a one-sided manner. When we talk about civil rights, we need to think about the civil rights of Jews, too. Shabbat is not something to be canceled in the public sphere. And Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria must be allowed to grow, both for Zionist reasons and because they offer Israelis the best solution to the high cost of housing.
So, that’s why, as a religious and a Zionist Jew, I am voting for Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich.
This article was first published by JewishPress.com.